I have switched to Stack Overflow away from Experts Exchange's paid subscription. I remember years ago reading that Experts Exchange had patented a rating system and just found it online. Might this pose legal problems to Stack Overflow's rating system in the future?

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Some patents are simply idiotic. They've just patented a rating system. I suggest they try patenting websites, browsers, points, questions and answers. That way they'll have all their bases covered. –  alex Nov 26 '09 at 21:15
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Indeed there are many kinds of rating systems out there that could be considered as infringing, and it might seem foolish to patent a voting system. I see the potential problem that Stack Overflow seems to be a direct competitor of the patent holder and therefore might be a target. It might be interesting for the SO community to start building up information in advance. –  John K Nov 26 '09 at 21:31
    
shh! they'll hear you! –  Kip Nov 27 '09 at 3:44
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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

A patent protects an idea. A copyright protects an implementation of an idea.

The flow chart on page 2 seems to cover any question and answer site that assigns points as a reward for answers.

Having said that, I don't think that it's actually enforceable. It's too broad and there are probably Q&A sites that existed prior to the patent that would invalidate it.

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patents can protect algorithms. and patent laws are pretty stupid, people have successfully sued large corporations over brain-dead-obvious ideas in the past. (sony had to pay up to use rumble in a wireless controller on the ps3, even though rumble controllers had been around and the idea of making a controller wireless using bluetooth is so obvious.) –  Kip Nov 27 '09 at 3:49
    
also, stack overflow isn't rolling in money (i don't think), so even if a lawsuit against SO fails, the legals costs could be devestating –  Kip Nov 27 '09 at 3:53
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@Kip: That goes both ways. SO would have to be seriously undermining their profit base before their costs would be remotely justified. –  ベレアー アダム Nov 27 '09 at 14:15
    
@Adam: If they're even turning a profit in the first place :) –  Kevin Laity Nov 27 '09 at 15:12
    
This seems a sensible evaluation of the issue to me. –  John K Dec 10 '09 at 23:55
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I thought it might be illuminating amusing to list all the verbs used in the claims of that patent. Here they are, in order:

providing receiving storing organizing regulating receiving storing organizing receiving displaying storing receiving storing accepting receiving storing awarding setting storing receiving storing displaying receiving storing displaying accepting receiving storing awarding storing including displaying storing rejecting escrowing deducting deducting providing increasing receiving storing displaying receiving storing displaying accepting displaying receiving storing rejecting escrowing deducting deducting receiving storing awarding storing awarding displaying storing transmitting receiving accepting transmitting transmitting transmitting determining receiving providing receiving receiving storing storing organizing regulating rejecting receiving storing organizing receiving displaying storing accepting receiving storing awarding setting storing receiving rejecting storing displaying receiving storing displaying accepting receiving storing awarding storing escrowing deducting deducting providing receiving storing displaying receiving storing displaying accepting receiving storing awarding storing receiving rejecting storing displaying receiving storing displaying accepting escrowing deducting deducting

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a very effective method of parsing the patent quickly - it makes a strong cursory point –  John K Nov 26 '09 at 21:47
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working thinking competing living breathing –  Kevin Laity Nov 26 '09 at 22:11
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Apparently these guys have not met our crack legal team.

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There are probably patents on tagging, staring, previewing a post, displaying user icon, sending notifications to users, using graphical symbols to represent language constructs and whatnot. And there's prior art to every single one of them, which makes them all invalid. But hey, who really cares about prior art anymore, that's, like, so 1900.

It usually doesn't matter that much what the patents are about, only how many of them you own, and how many does your enemy own. If both have enough, the one who has the more money wins. Or, um, maybe the one who has the most money wins in any case, I forgot the exact rules...

Unless we're talking about real patents, like complex algorithms and such. Then it has more to do with things that real patents deal with, like prior art and that stuff. But this isn't the case here, their rating system patent is most probably just ammunition for the ongoing Patent Wars 2000. Nothing to see here, move along.

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IANAL, but it seems to me that the purpose of the patent is to protect the design/process of the voting - not the fact that voting exists.

Since SO doesn't use the same model, I can't see that the patent applies... I'm sure prior art can demonstrate similar voting implementations.

As with most patents these day - a bit silly really. But then, again, IANAL.

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It would be interesting to note the similarities and differences using what is described. I posted the question because upon cursory overview of the patent there seem to be enough similarities, otherwise it would have been a rather incoherent question. IANAL. I'm not good at parsing patents either... but there's usually somebody around who is good at it. So I wait... –  John K Nov 26 '09 at 21:45
    
Fair enough ;-p –  Marc Gravell Nov 26 '09 at 22:24
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